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Media representations of social class

How are different social classes represented in the mainstream media? 

This post looks at how the monarchy, the wealthy, the middle classes, working classes and benefits claimaints (‘the underclass’) are represented, focusing mainly on British television and newspaper coverage.

Generally speaking the ‘lower’ the social class, the more negative the media representations are, arguably because the mainstream media professionals disproportionately come from upper middle class backgrounds.

NB Social class is  a tricky concept and you might like to review it here before continuing.

Media representations of social class.png

Representations of the Monarchy

According to Nairn (2019) after WWII the monarchy developed close ties with the media industry and worked with them to reinvent itself as ‘the royal family’ and since then they have been represented in the media as a family that are ‘like us but not like us’, and the narrative of their lives is presented as a soap opera, and is part of our day to day media fabric, which encourages us to identify with the royals.

Media representations of royalty also reinforce a sense of national identity: The Queen is the ultimate figure head of the country and royal events form part of our annual calendar, as well as the fact that royals are often in attendance at other national events, such as sporting events for example.

Media representations of wealth

The very wealthy are generally represented positively in the media, for example Alan Sugar and the Dragons on Dragons Den.

The constant media focus on the lifestyles of wealthy celebrities tends to glamourize such lifestyles, suggesting this is something we should all be aspiring to, rather than focusing on the injustice of how much these people are paid compared to ordinary people.

representations wealth media.PNG
Are the wealthy generally represented positively in the media?

The Middle Classes

Middle class (higher income) families seem to be over-represented on day time T.V. especially – in shows such as homes under the hammer, escape to the country and antiques shows featuring typically very high wealth/ income families, and yet presenting them as ‘the norm’.

Most T.V. presenters are middle class, and so they are more likely to identify with middle class guests compared to working class guests, reinforcing the concerns of former as more worthy of attention.

Most journalists and editors are privately educated which means that the news agenda is framed from a middle class point of views.

The working classes

There are relatively few shows which focus on the reality of the lives of working class people.

Mainstream soaps tend to be the most watched representations of the working classes

Jones (2011) suggests the working classes are represented as feckless racists who hate immigration and multiculturalism – coverage of Brexit seems to offer support for this.

Benefits claimants (‘The Underlcass’)

Coverage tends to focus on the poverty of individuals rather than the structural features of society such as government policy which created the underclass.

Media coverage of the underclass is generally negative and they are often scapegoated for society’s problems. Benefits Street is a good example of this.

Please see this extended post for more details on how the media portray benefits claimants in stereotypical ways.

 

 

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Media representations of benefits claimants

In this post I summarize some recent sociological research which suggests newspapers and ‘reality T.V. shows represent benefits claimants in a limited range of stereotypical ways, focusing on them as lazy, undeserving scroungers engaged in immoral, wreckless and criminal behaviour.

A lot of the research below also reminds us that media representations in no way reflect the reality of being unemployed and claiming benefits in the UK.

This research is relevant to the A-level sociology media topic: representations of social class.

Stereotypes of benefits claimants in newspaper articles 

Baumberg et al’s (2012) research ‘Benefits Stigma in Britain’ analysed a database of 6,600 national press articles between 1995-2011.

Baumberg et al found an extraordinarily disproportionate focus on benefit fraud: 29% of news stories referenced fraud. In comparison the government’s own estimate is that a mere 0.7% of all benefits claims are fraudulent.

Common language used to describe benefits as ‘undeserving’ included:

  • Fraud and dishonesty (including those such as ‘faking illness’);
  • Dependency (including ‘underclass’ and ‘unemployable’);
  • non-reciprocity/lack of effort (e.g. ‘handouts’, ‘something for nothing’, ‘lazy’, ‘scrounger’); •
  • outsider status (e.g. ‘immigrant’, ‘obese’)

Language used to describe benefits claimants as ‘deserving’ included:

  • need (‘vulnerable’, ‘hard-pressed’);
  • disability (‘disabled’, ‘disability’).

In general, Tabloid newspapers such (especially The Sun) focused on representing benefits claimants as undeserving, while broadsheets such as The Guardian were more likely to focus on representing benefits claimants as ‘deserving’.

news reporting unemployment.jpg

NB – The Sun and The Mail are Britain’s two most widely circulated newspapers. 

Stigmatising benefits claimants

Finally, the study found an increase in articles about benefits claimants which focused on the following stigmatising themes:

  • fraud
  • ‘shouldn’t be claiming’ (for reasons other than fraud)
  • never worked/hasn’t worked for a very long time
  • large families on benefits
  • bad parenting/antisocial behaviour of families on benefits
  • claimants better off on benefits than if they were working
  • claimants better off than workers
  • immigrants claiming benefits

More neutral/ positive themes included:

  • compulsion of claimants (e.g. workfare, benefit conditionality)
  • cuts to benefits
  • need

As with the themes of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’, Tabloids produced more stigmatising content than the the broadsheets.

negative reporting benefits claimants.jpg

Stereotypes of benefits claimants in reality T.V. shows 

Ruth Patrick (2017) has analysed the representations of those on benefits and in poverty on reality television shows such as ‘Benefits Street’ and Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole.

The number of such shows has exploded in recent years, but while they claim to provide and honest ‘realistic’ insight into  lives of Britain’s benefit claimants and those living in poverty, Patrick and others argue they are sensationalised and present stereotypical representations of those on welfare.

If we look at the opening scenes for the first series of Benefits Street for example, these featured:

  • sofas on the pavement,
  • men on streets drinking cans of lager,
  • women smoking cigarettes on their doorsteps.

Overall such shows present benefits claimants as lazy shirkers who don’t want to work, and as people who are different to the hard-working majority.

Such shows emphasize the difference between the working majority (‘us’) and the workless minority (‘them’) and invites us to identify ourselves against benefits claimants, and possibly to see claiming benefits as something which is a choice, long term and morally wrong, rather than as something which is a necessity, usually a short term stop-gap before a return work.

This interview with Jordan, who took feature in Benefits Britain as a claimant offers an insight into how negative representations of the unemployed are socially constructed by media professionals:

Jordan claims that he usually keeps his flat tidy, but was told by the producers to deliberately not tidy it up before they came round to shoot, because it would make people feel more sorry for him.

He also claims that the media crew bought alcohol and cigarettes for the shoot, and told the ‘claimants’ that if they didn’t consume them before the shoot was over they’d take them away again, which led to lots of images of the cast drinking and smoking, when Jordan claims he would only usually do this on special occasions.

Relevance of this to A-level Sociology/ Media studies….

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that newspapers and ‘reality’ T.V. present you with the reality of ‘life on benefits’ – in fact both of these sources present highly sensationalised accounts of what it’s like to actually be unemployed.

All of the above research is based on careful content analysis which picks out the main ways in which benefits claimants are stereotyped and thus represented in a limited way.

This post has only focused on representations, forthcoming posts will focus on why mainstream media professionals choose to represent benefits claimants in negative, stereotypical ways.

Sources 

 

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The British Media: a very upper middle class institution

Michael Buerk recently lamented the retirement of John Humphrys from Radio Four’s today programme – because his departure means one less working class voice on the BBC: once Humphrys goes all of the remaining Today presenters will have been privately educated.

In fact Buerk suggests that Humphrys further represents an older generation of media presenters: he broke into media in a more meritocratic age, when it was possible for ordinary working class kids to be socially mobile and get ‘middle class jobs’.

john humphrys.PNG
John Humphrys: the only working class presenter in the BBC village?

Today it seems this is much harder, and there’s a lot of evidence that our media companies are stuffed full of middle class media professionals, with the working classes woefully underrepresented behind the scenes.

Below I summarise some of the stats, all of which offers support for the neo-marxist theory of ownership and control of the media.

Surveys on the class backgrounds of media professionals show they are overwhelmingly upper middle class

Research conducted by Sam Friedman of the London School Economics found that

67% of Channel 4 staff had parents who worked at professional or managerial level and only 9% identify themselves as coming from a working class background.

The BBC came out best, but still had 61% of staff reporting they were from upper middle class backgrounds. 17% of staff and 25% of BBC management when to private school, well above the 7% for the population as a whole.

ITV only provided data for those in senior management roles, so are probably even more upper-middle class than Channel 4.

OFCOM has criticized the BBC for being too white, middle-aged and middle-class, and being out of touch with a wide tranche of the UK population.

Stef McGovern argues that BBC needs to do more to recruit people from working class backgrounds, and she even thinks that she’s paid less because she’s not posh, suggesting that people from wealthy backgrounds such as Fiona Bruce are able to negotiate better pay deals, at least partly because of their class.

Why are media professionals mainly upper middle class?

This brief article from the inews suggests that part of the reason the BBC and Channel 4 are so middle class is because they are both based in London, as are 2/3rds of media jobs. It also reminds us that to break into a job in media, people typically have to do long internships for very low pay, which is only possible with several months of parental support, which is much easier for upper middle class parents with 6 figure salaries to be able to afford.

According to a recent OFCOM report on how people of different socio-economic backgrounds are portrayed in the BBC:

  • working class people generally feel as low there are fewer representations of them than there are of the middle classes.
  • One programmer from the BBC even said that: “Too often people [from working class backgrounds] are merely the subject of documentaries made by white middle-class people for white middle-class people”.
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How the rich cheat their way into elite universities

Federal prosecutors in the U.S. recently charged dozens of wealthy parents with committing fraud in attempts to get their children into elite universities such as Yale and Stanford.

Parents have adopted strategies which range from faking athletic records and test scores to outright bribes.

Lori Loughlin (a sitcom star) and her husband Mossimo Giannulli (a fashion designer) allegedly paid $500 000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California’s rowing crew, even though they weren’t actually rowers.

Felicity Huffmann (of Desperate Housewives) allegedly paid $15 000 to an invigilator to ensure her daughter did well on a SATs test.

The institution which facilitated all of this elite education fraud was called ‘The Key’ – a ‘college counselling business’ in Sacremento which paid off invigilators to provided certain students will correct answers or even correct their test sheets. He also bribed college sports officials to take on students who didn’t play sports.

This was all covered up by getting parents to donate to a bogus charity to help disadvantaged students, in reality of course the money went to the bent officials faking the test scores etc.

NB – this may not actually be as bad as the legal situation – if you look at Harvard’s entrance stats, 42% of students whose parents made donations got in, compared to only 4.6% of the wider population, and of course the whole of the university system is already stacked in favour of the rich given that it’s so expensive to get a university degree!

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is clearly relevant to the reproduction of class inequality within education, and supports the Marxist perspective on crime, within crime and deviance.

Sources 

https://www.thisisinsider.com/felicity-huffman-college-admissions-scheme-allegedly-disguised-bribe-as-charity-donation-2019-3

https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-idiots-guide-to-bribing-and-cheating-your-way-into-college-11552479762

https://www.vox.com/2015/6/15/8782389/harvard-donation-rebuttal

 

 

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Oxford and Cambridge still seem to be biased towards the middle classes

Eight leading private schools send more pupils to Oxford and Cambridge than three-quarters of all state secondary schools.

These eight schools include some of the most expensive fee-paying independent schools in the country, including Westminster and Eton.

  • The eight schools sent 1, 310 pupils to Oxbridge fro 2015 to 2017,
  • Compared to 2,894 state schools which sent just 1, 220 pupils.

Now you might think this is simply due to the better standard of candidates in private schools leading to more applications to Oxford and Cambridge, however the statics below suggest Oxford and Cambridge and Russel Group universities bias their acceptances in favour of Independent schools and selective (grammar) schools and against comprehensives and the post-compulsory sector…..

private schools oxdridge.png

private schools oxford cambridge.pngThe statistics above show that…

  • Only 34% of  applications to Oxbridge are made from private schools, but 42% of offers are made to privately schooled pupils
  • 32% of applications to Oxbridge are made from comprehensive schools, but only 25% of offers are made to comprehensively schooled children.

This means you are significantly more likely to get an offer if you apply from a private school compared to a comprehensive school. A similar ‘offer bias’ is found for Russel Group universities.

Why might this be the case?

It could be that the standards of applications are better from Independent Schools (and selective schools), in fact this is quite likely given that such institutions are university factories, unlike comprehensive.

However, it might also just be pure class-bias, especially with the case of Oxbridge, where interviews and old-school tie connections might be significant enough to make the difference, given the relatively small numbers of applicants.

Possibly the best overall theory which explains this is ‘cultural capital‘ theory?

Sources/ Find out More

The Sutton Trust: Access to Advantage (full report)

Web link/ summary: https://www.suttontrust.com/newsarchive/oxbridge-over-recruits-from-eight-schools/

 

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Bank of mum and dad: increasingly important for getting on the property ladder!

Young adults have become increasingly dependent on financial support from their parents to finance their first house purchases.

Those without access to parental support (i.e. those with poorer parents) are less likely to be able to get on the property ladder. 

This is according to the latest research from the Resolution Foundation with examines the impact on parental wealth on home ownership, exploring the relationship between parental support and the ability of young adults today to purchase their first property. 

Some of the key findings of the report were as follows:

The children of wealthier parents are much more likely to become homeowners themselves: from the mid 2000s, children with parents with property wealth were three times as likely to become homeowners as those without property wealth. 

The children of wealthier parents become homeowners at an earlier age than those of less wealthy parents. 

The report also found that:

    • This relationship continues to hold even once someone’s salary, their education, where they live and whether they are in a couple or not are all taken into account.
    • The relationship between parental wealth and their children’s homeownership has risen over time.

The significance of these statistics:

This is bleak reading for anyone interested in economic equality, because this trend suggests that what’s occurring here is the reproduction of class inequality.

The findings of this report will probably come as no surprise to anyone, it just seems to be confirming what is really damn obvious!

This report is probably a good example of a document that’s been produced because of a value-agenda (so the choice of topic is not value free!) and yet the research is probably ‘objective’ in the sense that it’s difficult to bias these figures…. finances tend to be ‘hard statistics’ and it’s difficult for researchers to skew them, even if they want a certain outcome!

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The effect of private schools on future income

Men who went to a private school* go on to earn 78% more at age 29 than men who come from the lowest ‘social class’ quintile. 

Women who went to a private school* go on to earn 100% more at age 29 than women from the lowest ‘social class’ quintile.

private schools income.png

By age 29, men who had been to a private school earn on average £41 000 per annum, compared to only £23 000 per annum for those from the lowest SES background. 

The respective figures for women are £36 000 and £18000. 

Those who attended private school even earn considerably more on average than those from the top SES quintile. 

This is from the latest IFS study on the impact of Higher Education on future earnings

The significance of these statistics 

This is YET MORE evidence of how private schools seem to play a crucial role in the reproduction of class inequality. The chain seems to be:

  • Go to a private school and get hot-housed
  • Get into a Russel Group university
  • Get a better paid job. 

It also shows that we need to keep researching exactly how private schools confer advantages on children from rich backgrounds and on just exactly how material and cultural capital combine to get these kids better jobs as adults. 

You might like to read this post for more detailed info

Limitations with these statistics 

The above stats show all earners, including those who failed their GCSEs, so we’re not really comparing like with like when we compare highest and lowest SES categories, because so many people from the lowest SES category fail to get 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, which means they are much less likely to go to HE, which has a significant negative impact on their earnings at age 29.

With these stats we are going back to a cohort which sat their GCSEs over 10 years ago, so they are already dated, although in fairness, this is unavoidable with a longitudinal analysis such as this. 

*Given that only 7% of UK children go to private school, and that most have to pay fees, attendance at private school strongly suggests that this is the top tenth decile of students by ‘social class’ background, so the top half of the top fifth. 

 

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Is it worth doing a degree? (2018 update)

U.K. universities typically charge £9250 year for most Higher Education degree courses, which means a total cost of £27 750 for a standard, three year degree. But is it worth it?

This post summarises the findings of a recent quantitative study conduct by the Department for Education and the Institute for Fiscal studies which examines the impact of having a degree on early career salaries (up until 29 years old), taking into account a whole range of background factors such as prior attainment at GCSE, social class background, and gender as well as the type of university and subject studied.

This is necessarily a brief summary, reporting only some of the findings, but you can read the full report here.

What is the impact of going to university on future earnings?

Overall, at age 29 the average woman who attended HE earns > 50% more than the average woman (with five A*-C GCSEs) who did not. 

HE compared non HE earnings women.png

For men the gap is 25%, which is still significant.

Class background and prior attainment still explain more than HALF the difference

HOWEVER, a lot of the above difference in future earnings is explained by differences prior to university – and once we take into account higher prior attainment and class background,

earnings social class.png

There’s actually quite a difference here between men and women – female graduates earn 28% more than non-graduates, while male graduates earn only 8% more. So class background seems to affect men more than women?!? It sees that factors such as cultural capital may still matter! 

Russel Group graduates do a lot better!

The type of institution has a large affect on future salary gains – those attending Russel Group universities can look forward to much higher salaries compared to those attending post 1992 institutions.

graduate earnings by university.png

Overall, significant salary gains are enjoyed by 85% of students (99% of women, 67% of men)

Subject studied matters!

Future incomes vary greatly by subject studied. Men studying creative arts, English or philosophy actually end up with lower earnings on average at age 29 than those who did not go to university. However, studying medicine or economics increases male earnings by more than 20%.

earnings GCSEs men.png

For women, there are no subjects that have negative returns, and studying economics/ medicine increases their earnings age 29 by around 60%.

earnings GCSEs women.png

Final thoughts

Looked at from a purely financial perspective, in 2018 it still makes financial sense for most people to do a degree, but some gain more out their degrees than others.

But there are some quite complex correlations between future earnings, subject studied, gender, and so on, and the final two graphics above do an excellent job of showing how these variables interact.

Based purely on the stats, if you’re a lad with ‘low GCSE’ attainment going to a bottom-end university, it’s probably not worth you doing a degree.

For most other graduates, earning 20% more, that’s £6K extra on a £30K salary, roughly, so after tax, your degree would have more or less paid for itself by your late 20s, early 30s. Sooner, if you’re doing economics or medicine!

Having said that, there are other benefits to going to university besides widening your job prospects and improving your future salary – such as the knowledge, the friends and the lolz, and of course these might well be priceless.

And Very Finally a word of the advice for the uncertain….

If you’re not sure whether you should do a degree or not, or if you’re uncertain about what subject you should do, don’t let your parents or your college pressurise you into applying to university NOW. You can always apply with a ‘gap year’, or just not apply and apply next year or the year after… starting on the wrong course and dropping out is a very expensive (£9.25K) mistake to make, and you’ll probably gain little from it other than stress.

So if you’re uncertain, just chilax, even if the people around you are going mental at you about applying. I took a year out after my A-levels, and had a great time being unemployed and reading philosophy before applying for my degree in American Studies and Anthropology – two great subjects I never would have applied for while at school.

This post was written for educational purposes. And the above advice does not actually constitute advice, ask a so called professional if yer uncertain about yer future. 

Sources 

(1) https://www.gov.uk/student-finance/new-fulltime-students

(2) All images from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/759278/The_impact_of_undergraduate_degrees_on_early-career_earnings.pdf

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Outline and explain two reasons why some groups are more likely to join World Rejecting New Religious Movements than others (10)

This is a suggested answer to the first type of 10 mark question you’ll find in section A of the AQA’s second sociology paper (paper 2, topics in sociology).

It’s good practice to firstly identify a type of group and then try to link them to a specific world rejecting NRM (or more than one if you can). Then you need to link together different reasons why these type of people might join this type of group.

For some general advice on how to answer (both types of) 10 mark questions – please see this post

Economically disadvantaged ethnic minorities are more likely to join World Rejecting NRMs such as the Nation of Islam.

According to Roy Wallis, such groups suffer higher levels of deprivation and marginalization, meaning they feel pushed to edge of society and not really a part of it.

In the case of ethnic minorities, they may also have experience racism, which compounds the effects of economic deprivation.

World Rejecting NRMs may appeal precisely because they reject mainstream society, which has effectively rejected impoverished ethnic minority groups.

Some of them offer a ‘theodicy of disprivilege’ which explains why the group is experiencing deprivation, and offers spiritual compensation for coping with such deprivations.

Others, such as the Nation of Islam, offer the prospect of social change, and actively challenge the powerful in mainstream society. This can provide a sense of not only hope for a better life, but also solidarity while engaged in the struggle for a better life.

A second type of group which are attracted to World Rejecting New Religious Movements are highly educated young people. This is what Eileen Barker unexpectedly found when she researched the Moonies.

Such people are typically from middle class background and they have witnessed their parents being successful, but not necessarily being happy. They are expected to follow in their parents footsteps but have realised that there is something missing in their lives.. despite being privileged, they feel a little hollow.

NRMs offer something different, something which such people lack – they make up for their spiritual deprivation.

Such movements are especially accessible to young people as they have fewer attachments, and for wealthier kids, it’s less of a risk because they know they can always go back and live off their parents if they have enough of their ‘spiritual phase’.

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Explaining social class differences in religious belief and participation

Why is it that the middle classes are more attracted to mainstream churches, while the working classes find denominations more appealing. And how do we explain the different social class profiles of different NRMs?

Churches and Denominations

The Church of England has close ties with ‘the establishment’: The Queen, for example, is the ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’ and the Prime Minister remains responsible for appointing bishops. There are also a significant number of bishops in the House of Lords.

Thus the Church of England has a very ‘elitist’ feel about it, which goes at least some way to explaining its appeal to the middle classes.

Ahern’s (1987) survey of working class inner city Londerners found that they were generally distrustful of the mainstream Church of England. They generally felt as if the relationship between the church and the working classes was one of us ‘us versus them’. They found its ministers patronizing, gloomy and boring and claimed that ministers were ‘culturally embarrassed’ by the presence of working class individuals in church.

Glock (1964) argues that some people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are attracted to sects because they help them coping with their disadvantage: by offering ‘spiritual compensation’ for economic deprivation, for example.

Roy Wallis (1984) argued that denominations such as Methodism attracted more working class people because they were organised and run by their congregations. They also taught values of moral responsibility that most working class people identified with (such as hard work and thrift).

Andrew Holden’s (2002) research with the Jehovah’s Witnesses found that recruits were drawn mainly form the skilled working-classes, self-employed and lower middle classes. He theorized that these people had little interaction with others in their job roles, and little social status as a result. They way the Jehovah’s Witnesses was structured compensated them for their lack of status at work, what with the movement’s strong emphasis on self-sacrifice and assurance of salvation.

Roy Wallis suggests that some of the New Religious Movements such as the Unification Church and Krishna Consciousness attracted mainly well educated middle class people – and suggested that these movements compensated them for ‘psychic deprivation’ – they were disillusioned with their parents’ capitalist values and turned to these organisations for an alternative.

Sources 

Chapman et Al (2013) Sociology, AQA Year 2 Student Book